United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Greater Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) sponsors the Elvis Run, a national UCP event that aims to raise funds and awareness for cerebral palsy. The run was going into its eighth year, but UCP had only taken over sole promotional duties the previous year to retain more funds for the charity's use. But the inexperience with publicity left its finances in the red. "Since this is our only big fundraising event, we needed to max out the money as much as possible," says Elizabeth Banner, special events manager at UCP of Greater DFW.
BlueCurrent PR, which wanted to devote its efforts to a more underserved organization, saw the perfect chance to pitch in.
With a budget of next to nothing, BlueCurrent needed to find low-cost, creative ways to get the buzz started, letting good old-fashioned grassroots marketing do the rest.
Though no one had ever been able to explain why the annual run was always Elvis-themed, BlueCurrent decided to tie into the kitschiness as the driving theme of the campaign. Because 2007 was the 30th anniversary of Elvis' death, there was even more of an opportunity to play up the significance of the quirky motif.
"There's nothing exciting or newsworthy about a 5K run, so in order to create innate value, we wanted to capitalize on the fact it [was] the 30th anniversary of his death," says Annette Rogers, SVP and partner at BlueCurrent.
Going for irreverence the whole way, BlueCurrent reached out to an area arthouse theater to arrange for a free Elvis movie night, during which it distributed brochures highlighting the run. It also created 45 life-size stand-up cutouts of the King (with built-in brochure holders) to display at Dallas hotspots, playing off the notion of "Elvis spottings."
The crowning achievement, both kitsch- and publicity-wise, came in the form of the Jelly Jam, a jelly-doughnut-eating contest between the Dallas fire and police departments. To sponsor the event, BlueCurrent tapped Southern Maid, the maker of Elvis' favorite doughnuts and the only company for which Elvis ever agreed to do a product commercial.
"It was a great visual for the local media, having the firefighters and police officers who are stereotypically associated with doughnuts battling it out to see who could eat the most," says Rogers.
Media outreach focused on local print and broadcast outlets.
The Jelly Jam drummed up the interest of every local TV station and received coverage on four, reaching an audience of more than 4 million. Along with 20 other placements in print and online outlets, UCP of Greater DFW was able to double the number of registered participants (and hence dollars) in the race, meeting its original ideal goal.
UCP of Greater DFW has already started planning for the 2008 Elvis Run and intends to reuse BlueCurrent's ideas. Though not expecting to double the results from such a successful campaign again next year, it aims to continue growth and awareness from year to year.
PR team: United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Dallas-Fort Worth and BlueCurrent PR (Dallas)
Campaign: UCP 12th Annual Elvis Run
Duration: April to August 2007
Budget: Less than $1,000
While other firms and organizations might have shied away from the jocular nature of the Elvis Run, BlueCurrent embraced the tongue-in-cheek subject as the hook needed to get people talking.
Previous years had proved that the theme alone was not sufficient in raising awareness and revenue. Because the success of the campaign ultimately depended on word-of-mouth publicity, the use of a fondly remembered and irresistible mascot helped provide an easy association and recall tag for people who encountered Elvis in his various iterations and events.